Saturday, March 9, 2013

Review: Soulful Sounds by John R. Jackson

Title: Soulful Sounds
Author: John R. Jackson
Genre: Poetry
Publisher: Exposition
Published: 1973

This slim volume of poetry by an unknown writer who never gained any recognition was published in 1973, the author's first and last publication (as far as I could see, that is).
I am sometimes intrigued by battered-looking, unknown books that no one has heard of. That was why I bought this one, even though I truthfully didn't expect to like it. I am very picky about poetry, and besides that, the inside cover advertised that Jackson wrote solely for a Black audience. As a blue-eyed white girl, I wasn't sure if I was the right audience. I do find Civil Rights issues and racial prejudice interesting, but it isn't a subject I usually go looking for.

The first part of this book, which focuses on the author's African heritage, the history of his people, and the racism and prejudice he faces, was indeed interesting but not riveting.
Besides my feeling that he was speaking to someone else, I was a bit unsettled by the underlying feeling of the poems, that Jackson was trying to apologize for being black, making it sound as though his race was the problem, rather than racism itself.
Also, he seemed to be fond of letting out a string of names, sometimes taking up over half a dozen lines. It annoyed me. Aretha Franklin and Martin Luther King Jr. have entire poems written in their tribute, as well as James Brown, who gets the longest one.

The other parts of the book involve romance, patriotism, broken hearts, and miscellaneous work. His more personal poems, in which he was speaking of his own life and not trying to be a voice of an entire race, were surprisingly touching. I must slip in the disclaimer that I am not the best poet critic, as I don't know much about the rules. I just read poetry like the average person and judge it on how it strikes me.
Jackson writes of love lost, of a painful divorce, of the elation and longing of love, of war, and of sorrow at the corruption he sees in the world.
There is a beautiful poem dedicated to his brother-in-law, who fought in World War II, as well as a failure of a poem called "Secretary," which was laughably cheesy.
I couldn't help but wonder, from his poems, who his "Helen" was in real life. He mentions a forbidden romantic interest in a few of his poems who is obviously a white woman (he describes her "fair" skin and "flaxen hair"), and I wondered what the story might be.

The writing is poignantly unpolished, his occasional grammatical errors only adding to a sense of sing-song, blues sound. You can easily imagine a singer with a raspy, rich voice starting to sing the lines of Jackson's poems at any moment.

I enjoyed this book of poetry more than I thought I would. And, I opened it to see the author's signature, which I hadn't known was there when I bought it.